Hand engraving techniques (drill and diamond point)

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When the surface of the glass is scratched it catches the light, so by roughing it up with a diamond or stone bur, the area will appear white.

When the surface is smoothed a little the light passes through and the engraving appears grey.

When the glass is smoothed even more with rubber it appears dark, clear glass is darkest.

Above is a Heraldic Lion which I have engraved on the under side of a glass paperweight. Shadows are also created by the depth of the engraving. The eye of the lion has been engraved with a small diamond bur and then smoothed by a white arkansas stone, and then polished with a brown rubber bullet.

I took this photo whilst engraving dry so that you can see the dust, otherwise I will use water when engraving with diamond burs. This will keep down the dust, lubricate the bur and ensures a clean cut. It is advisable that protection is worn to avoid the dist being inhaled. Eyes, nose and mouth need protection. Even ears need protection if engraving on a large piece of glass as it can be deafening. I also use a dust extractor.

A sweet little robin .... drill engraved into the back of an optical crystal block with branches engraved around to the front. I used diamond stones and rubber burs as usual. The branches are engraved deep with lots of texture with diamond and then smoothed slightly with soft stone burs to create a darker tone on the shallower areas and then soft and hard rubbers smooth to darken the most shallow areas creating shadows. The Robin's eye is drilled with diamond then smoothed with soft stone, white arkansas, then polished with a small bullet rubber. Don't engrave eyes too deep or the subject looks like its eyes are popping out. Work textures with varuous sized diamonds and use rubbers to pick up the shadows of the textures. Remember the smoother the glass the the more the light can pass through so the darker it appears. The rougher the glass surface, the more the light is caught and therefore the brighter the engraving is. Add little features like the twiddly bits on the berries, feather textures and eye lids, until last, finishing off with tiny diamond burs, eg "ratstail". Use water to lubricate whilst engraving especially with diamond burs, to ease the cut for smoother edges and preserve the diamond. You do not want to see chipped edges!!

The drill I am using here is a micromotor. I also use a heavy duty flexible drive hanging motor drill for the very heavy work. (eg carving and cameo engraving...will explain another time)


As you can see I am sitting comfortably. I have an adjustable chair so I am always at the right height depending on the item to be engraved.

I made this fun tower for all my burs in use. Above is a very small selection of burs that I would use most in a small piece of engraving.

It is important for engravers to check for stress lines in the glass. They are undetectable with the naked eye.

Stress lines are caused during the manufacturing process when the rim is being smoothed off and then they are not cooled down at the correct pace.

The process of detecting is simple, 2 pieces of old polariod film, rotated against each other in front of a light source. When they appear dark, insert one side of the glass between the 2 films. if there is a stress line it will appear as in the photo, a dark line within light lines.

Cheap glasses often have stresses further down and appearing undulating. You engrave over these at your own risk. If the stress is upset it will crack and the crack will grow around the glass along the fault. Otherwise, simply engrave underneath it.


If you only have a diamond or tungston carbide point to work with, or even a diamond coated bur in a pencil...you can still get engraving. Here I have "stipple" engraved my sons . Stipple is gently tapping the glass producing tiny dots. You can also scratch lines (linear engraving). Some great examples are shown in this little video from one of the teaching days I used to do where I taught a group of students, most of whom had never engraved glass before and see what they can produce in 3 hours with a simple diamond bur held in a pencil grip.


It is important to remember a basic rule......engrave the light! Dark areas (eg: eyes) must be clear or polished glass.

Practice on a piece of black paper with a white pencil:

A commission for a customer July 2007:

Here is a 10 oz crystal whisky glass which I used 4 different engraving techniques to re-create this boating scene using the whole glass. The first thing I did (was a bit late in taking the photo though) was to sandblast the basics of the vessel, so that the lettering especially, has a neat finish.(second photo) . Then going back to the first photo, back of the glass, I drew with an acid resist pen and etched with hydrofloric acid paste, the sky, clouds, mountain and then the water which goes all around and underneath. In the third photo, you can see I am using a grey rubber bur by hand to darken parts of the clouds to produce a soft water colour effect. I have also used a black rubber disc in the drill and bounced it slowly along the water to create the dark speckles.

Here you see me stippling by hand with a tungston carbide point. It is extreemly sharp and just tapping on the glass produces the sparkles on the sea that I need back and front of the glass.

Here I am using white stone, then green stone and then rubber to fill in the blank spaces with half tones and then polishing out in places. It is important not to leave "holes" in the glass, by leaving blank glass inbetween.

This green stone bouncing gently on the glass leaves larger sparkles in the foreground.

So a small glass yet 4 different techniques used. That was great fun!!

OK back to some more ideas....

Another way to transfer the design onto the glass is to use a waxy carbon. Once you have done that, use a small stone to slowly go over the outlines ...don't use water or you will wash off your carbon. Why not let your hair down and use a black permanent pen and draw straight onto the glass....or if you are really brave.....drill straight on...let yourself go, especially if it is an abstract that will develop on the glass.

A good trick is to use the largest bur in the area concerned to avoid the ridges that will form...unless you specifically want ridges, eg relief on leaves etc.

Yes it is a messy business !!! I use a slow drip feed system (used for fish tanks I believe) for my supply of water whilst I am engraving. If you can't find one, just sponge it on. dab the wet sponge onto a bar of soap first, this will keep the water on the surface for longer...about 2 seconds longer ...yes you have to do this all the time. I did all the years I was in Zimbabwe, I held it permanently in my left hand. The drip feed gives you much more freedom.

Note that my vice is lined with a black cloth, it has sponge underneath and then the glass is held tight and comfortably in the vice. I then have 2 hands to hold the drill and leaning my wrist on the edge I have full control.

Tip....always sign your work. Keep photos and records.

To photograph glass I use an old box, painted black on the sides and lined at the back and base with black velvet. Either a light, or even better window light coming in through the top/back. Fix your camera to the tripod , pull a fixed black cloth over the box and camera to block out all other light and take the photo. Use the timer if you can.

I hope this page helps and when I can I will add some more to it, you can also see a number of little videos I have made on this site. I have got to the stage now that I cannot keep up with all the emails I get from all over the world, it is special to know there are so many of you learning just a little bit from my pages.

Please join my Glass Engraving Club on Facebook page, there you will see many of your questions answered now and it is where you can ask more and share. Please also LIKE my personal Glass Engraving page .

I really do hope to make a DVD / book one day, but I have a significant amount of work to get through first to get where I need to be.



diamond Burs etc.

Drills: B&H Services

A great book to look for is The Techniques of Glass Engraving by
Peter Dreiser and Jonathan Matcham


Glass Engraving: Drill Techniques by
Stuart and Shirley Palmer

Lesley Pyke is a limited company registered in England number 7337000

Unit 15b Halesworth Business Centre, Norwich Rd, Halesworth, Suffolk IP19 8QJ. Telephone 01986 874634

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